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Adelaide archbishop talks to MP on confessional confidentiality

Archbishop Philip Wilson met with No Pokies Independent MP Nick Xenophon on Friday to discuss the seal of the confessional and whether priests should be required to break it.

Xenophon sparked national controversy on Tuesday when he introduced a Bill in South Australia's Parliament making the clergy mandatory reporters of child abuse. The Bill would effectively remove, by law, the confidentiality of the confessional in regard to child abuse.

Archbishop Wilson has declined to comment on the meeting but Mr Xenophon says he thought it was productive.

"If this debate has led to a greater focus to dealing with issues more broadly in terms of the way the church responds to allegations of child sex abuse, not simply within the confessional, then that has to be a good thing," Mr Xenophon said.

Wilson had earlier said the confessional has been "an area of the utmost sanctity for the Catholic Church from its very beginning."

Meanwhile Anglican Archbishop Ian George said he supports mandatory reporting for priests in relation to anything but the confessional.

"I believe it would be a tragedy for that to be broken, however important the particular issue is," he said.

But Rev Don Owers, an Adelaide Anglican priest who earlier this year exposed abuse in his church, said there should be a community debate on whether the confessional seal should be overridden.

Another Anglican priest, The Australian's religion writer Fr James Murray, argues in favour of preserving the seal of the confessional in an opinion piece in this morning's paper. He says the confession itself "is to God, and not to the priest".

"Otherwise it would elevate the priest to divine status, and give him a dangerous juridical power," he argues.

Baptist Church leader Rev. Tim Costello said churches need to review their practices regarding the sanctity of the confessional.

"The Church can tend to treat child abuse as a spiritual matter where guilt is appeased, rather than as a crime that is heinous," he said.

He expressed his view that the purpose of the confessional is to offer "a safe place to the most vulnerable people in society".

The Advertiser
The Australian

New threat to confessional seal (18/9/03)
Churches to work with state government on child protection (SA DEpt of Human Services)
Parliament to discuss confessional confidentiality (ABC)
Priests to dob on child sex abuse (Daily Telegraph)
Editorial: Custody battles and the welfare of children (The Advertiser)
Bill could crack total sanctity of confessional (The Advertiser)
MP wants confessionals to open up (The Age)
Oz priests resist exposing sex abuse (AFP/iAfrica)

Churches reject confession report call (ABC)
Archdiocese of Adelaide

Polish priest charged for confession confidence (22/7/03)
Confessional seal under attack in United States (11/3/03)
Cardinal defends confessional seal against proposed violation (25/2/03)
Church in France worried about threat to secrecy of confessional (8/11/01)

22 Sep 2003